F09 Compton Lecture: The Physics of Energy Devices

By Eric R. Switzer

Fellow, Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago


Dear Friends of the Enrico Fermi Institute:

We cordially invite you to join us for the next series of the Arthur H. Compton Lectures. The Lectures are intended for the general public, friends of the Enrico Fermi Institute, members of the University community, and interested citizens of the Chicago area. They provide a descriptive account of some of the frontiers of present-day science. We don't expect you to have a formal background in mathematics or science, but hope to appeal to your curiosity and to share with you some of the excitement of modern scientific research.

Right now, nuclei are splitting, carbon atoms are rejoining oxygen atoms, generators are turning, transformers are stepping voltages up and down, oil pumpjacks are nodding, refiners are processing, and cars are whirring on numerous highways. Our modern life depends on a bewildering number and variety of transformations of energy. These all act together transparently to provide our everyday conveniences and essentials, and are easy to take for granted. The energy transformations employ many key ideas of physics that have been developed in the last century and a half. Indeed, the emergence of almost every major area of physics went hand-in-hand with the invention of practical devices that define our modern life. The lectures will break several of these technologies down to their essential phenomena, and put those phenomena in the context of the development of physics as a field.

In these lectures, Dr. Switzer will review some of the essential physics of energy technologies in an approximately chronological order, from outcomes of electrodynamics and thermodynamics to applications of more modern nuclear and condensed matter physics. No scientific background is required -- just bring your curiosity.

We hope that you can join us for the first lecture on Saturday, October 3rd, 2009 at 11:00 AM in Room 106 of the Kersten Physics Teaching Center, 5720 South Ellis Avenue. Enter through the door at the southeast corner. The series will run each Saturday from October 3rd, 2009, through Dec. 12th, 2009. There will be no lecture on Saturday, November 28th (Thanksgiving weekend).


Lecture plan and notes

Oct. 3 Lecture 1: Introduction and motors notes talk (pdf)
Oct. 10 Lecture 2: Motors and generators notes talk (pdf)
Oct. 17 Lecture 3: Power transmission notes talk (pdf)
Oct. 24 Lecture 4: The wind notes talk (pdf)
Oct. 31 Lecture 5: Basic thermodynamics notes talk (pdf)
Nov. 7 Lecture 6: Heat engines and transportation notes talk (pdf)
Nov. 14 Lecture 7: Nuclear fission notes talk (pdf)
Nov. 21 Lecture 8: Solar energy notes talk (pdf)
Dec. 5 Lecture 9: Special guest lecture -- Dorian Abbot notes talk (pdf)
Dec. 12 Lecture 10: Summary; future bibliography

Unless specified otherwise, text and graphics are copyright of Eric Switzer, 2009.


Some members of the audience at the site of CP-1 (Nov. 14, 2009 following lecture 7).
Some members of the audience at the site of CP-1 (Nov. 14, 2009 following lecture 7).